By Pratishtha Kadambi Ravi
Equality, more specifically, gender equality as a concept has largely remained evasive in India’s history as a republic nation. Gender inequality in India refers to the health, education, economic and political inequalities between men and women in India. Despite the projected rapid economic growth, the explosion of initiatives to increase women’s political participation, increased microcredit programmes and self-help groups, gender disparities have continued to grow unabated and persistently in India.
What is the first thought that comes into the minds of most of the people of our country upon seeing a woman drive a car? “oh look! It’s a woman. Be careful, “they” don’t know how to drive. But is it?
Social media, being the most powerful tool to broadcast your thoughts to a larger public has nowadays become a warzone with intellectuals from all around our country demanding equal rights for women. But do women actually NEED TO BE GIVEN THEIR RIGHT? The ones which they already have? The ones which are written on the world’s largest constitution of the world’s largest democracy? How do you give a person the rights he/she already has?
Yes, there is no doubt that women in our country are portrayed as weak but that keep them at par from the basic right of equality? A fundamental right granted to each and every individual of our country. Why drag gender into this? Why can’t we just perceive an individual just as human being and be gender neutral?
Gender sensitization typically means a process where all genders are taught to respect everyone irrespective of gender differences. However, the stereotype and bias around gender roles and rights have existed in our society and have been deep-rooted within our cultural institutions and the way we behave as a collective. A pervasive phenomenon, discrimination against women and girls characterizes almost all sections of Indian society and at all levels. Ideas about gender-appropriate behavior and gender inequality are primarily driven by the cultural institutions in India, especially those of patrilineality and patrilocality.
A preference for sons
Cultural institutions in India, particularly those of patrilineality (inheritance through male descendants) and patrilocality (married couples living with or near the husband’s parents), play a central role in perpetuating gender inequality and ideas about gender-appropriate behavior. A culturally ingrained parental preference for sons - emanating from their importance as caregivers for parents in old age - is linked to poorer consequences for daughters.
The dowry system, involving a cash or in-kind payment from the bride’s family to the grooms at the time of marriage, is another institution that disempowers women. The incidence of dowry payment, which is often a substantial part of a household’s income, has been steadily rising over time across all regions and socioeconomic classes.
These practices create incentives for parents not to have girl children or to invest less in girls’ health and education. Such parental preferences are reflected in increasingly masculine sex ratios in India. In 2011, there were 919 girls under age six per 1000 boys, despite sex determination being outlawed in India.
Covid-19 aggravates gender inequality
Back in March 2020, when one of the strictest lockdowns in the world was imposed in India, more than 120 million workers lost their jobs overnight. Majority of these workers were from the informal sector and half of them were women. With restrictions eased and economic activities struggling to achieve normalcy, by November 2020, men who had lost their jobs had regained most of it and left behind were women – with no jobs, and no social security net.
In India, the virus has unsympathetically burrowed deep and has adversely affected the social and economic composition of the country. A composition that is already marred by gender inequalities, gender roles and stereotypes.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected women, especially those who are part of the labour workforce. According to an analysis, COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects, conducted by McKinsey Global Institute in the year 2020, women are more vulnerable and susceptible to COVID-19-related economic effects because of the already existing gender inequalities. Using the unemployment data, trends and surveys in the United States and India, the study estimates that female job loss rates owing to COVID-19 are about 1.8 times higher than the male job loss rates globally, at 5.7% versus 3.1%, respectively.
To say that only time will tell, if India rises to the challenge up ahead, will be imbecile because the time to rise is now. The future is gender inclusive and social norms are liable to change. We need to decide whether we choose to build a better resilient and equal society or leave half of the population to teeter on the edges. The choice is ours and we need to be wise about it.
Being a woman is a gift of nature. She is where all life on earth began from and we the people have successfully defamed, ignored and casted away a whole gender. Being a woman is not being weak. They don’t need equal rights, all they need is to be seen as an individual, be recognized on their achievements, be praised upon doing a job no man can do. Women don’t need equal rights, they deserve equal respect.